This final post is concerned with one of my longest lasting obsessions: utopian thought.
I think the roots of this mania are in the very early realisation of many things that were wrong with the world I lived in when I was a child, which was itself a utopian experiment that went tragically wrong -( i.e. existing socialism of a Hungarian variety aka the happiest barrack). It is lined with passionate belief in the unique value of every single individual and an outrage at so many people being forced to compromise their talents for mere subsistence. Delving into Marxist philosophy I gradually explored the rich and fascinating genre of utopian literature.
One of the key problems with utopias is that they tend to describe a world one would not enjoy living in, a bit like heaven which sounds like the most boring place ever, with all that singing and dancing and sitting around being happy.
The basic problem with utopias is that life consists of conflicts. Different views, values and desires render the creation of an ideal state pretty much impossible. So far, any attempts at creating them have been disastrous. The task is then to create an ideal society which is based on the total freedom of every individual to fulfil their own potential.
There are some ground rules to the society I imagine:
People start work at the age of 40. Until then, they learn, travel, explore – all financed equally by a central authority. People don’t retire, they stop working when they feel that they have contributed enough to society. Far too many older people are forced to leave work at an age when they could still be useful just so that they can give their place to young workers. This system is failing completely these days. The proportion of unemployed school leavers and university graduates continues to rise. In some countries over 50 percent of youngsters join the dole cues, while older people are also forced into retirement.
I strongly believe that most, if not all the jobs we think of as less desirable can be performed by machines and/or replaced by technological solutions that are readily available. Also, one would be surprised at what some people would actually enjoy doing if it weren’t stigmatised by societal discrimination. In many cases it’s not the job but the social stigma that keep people away from performing certain tasks. And of course, there is also the chance of retraining if one is not happy with the job they have chosen or want to try something else.
Whole segments of industry that produce products for the sake of production will be abolished. Manufacturers will be responsible for making sure their products are sustainably produced, recyclable and high quality. Disposable materials will be suppressed. Don’t forget, if people have a choice to create meaningful things, they will not choose to put together plastic toys that fall apart the moment you take them out of the shops, or furniture that falls apart before you assemble the flat pack. We now have the technology to produce high quality goods without completely exhausting the earth’s resources. The shift from quantity to quality has to happen before long if we want to stop the world turning into a massive rubbish heap.
This is a dangerous and difficult one and possible the one most open to attacks, especially as it has not been tried. However, I believe that everyone should be given the same salary. It is work that should be rewarded, not individuals themselves. Because people have chosen to do their jobs based on their love of the work, an unequal remuneration system would signal that some people’s jobs are less valuable than others’, which is unfair and demoralising. The value people receive from their work is not measured by salary, but by the pleasure they receive from doing something they truy have prepared their whole lives to do. This is why in many countries, universities and colleges end up with teaching faculties catering for low or mediocre students, as becoming a teacher is considered a financially unwise choice.
I believe that the differentiation between individuals based on how valuable they are is the source of much of the discontent, disenfranchisement, anger and frustration so characteristic of the world today. In my utopia, you are given the opportunity to choose whatever course you want to take. You do have to start work at the age of 40, but you get a year off every 6 years which you can use to re-train or further develop. Of course if you want to go on working that’s also possible, and your income will remain the same regardless. .
Parents can choose when they want to have children. Raising children is considered a full-time occupation paid at the same level as any other job. Parents who want to work can take children to communities of parents whose choice is to look after children. In my experience a lot of people actually enjoy working with children.
Children’s formal education starts at the age of 10. Until then they get to live with their parents (who if they are still in their 20′s or 30′s are not working yet if they don’t want to), they travel together, they spend time together and they get exposure to new experiences and people in parenting ”clubs” where children and parents get together and try out new activities. By the age of 10, due to the experiences they have had, children will be able to make much better choices regarding the activities they enjoy and want to pursue.
These are some of the fundamental characteristics of my ideal world. There are of course many aspects of life I have not had a chance to elaborate on in this post (media, entertainment, politics and its institutions, healthcare, arts, etc.) my intention was to highlight some of the key and perhaps most controversial aspects of a society that looks ideal to me. I believe the world as it is at the moment is not sustainable, it is based on social injustice that stems from a long history of colonisation, prejudice and oppression. The world we have inherited is fundamentally flawed, its foundations need to be revisited if want to survive, prosper and advance.
Crazy? Of course it is. But I love spending time daydreaming and building this little perfect state which helps me identify aspects of society I don’t like, and reinforces my love of humanity, creativity and fairness.
I’s been tremendous fun working on these posts this week. Thanks to Tyson for starting the challenge. Do check out his posts from this week: on transferability, his five takeaways from this academic year, on checking comprehension, his beautifully written letter to his students and one on 10 special words.
I enjoyed this so much that I will try to go on with the #5days5posts for one week every month. The difference will be that the posts will be organised around one topic each time, though I really enjoyed the wide spectrum of topics I got to cover this week.
Many were surprised when we announced that we would return to Dubai after two years in Hungary. It was especially surprising for the people who read some of the five posts I had written about why I was leaving Dubai (here, here, here, here and here).
However, the move back to Dubai turned out to be a fantastic decision. I have had one of the most exciting years of my life. Most of you would know that I came back on the proviso that I would not seek full-time employment of any kind. Despite some really tempting opportunities, I have managed to stick to this.
Firstly, because I have the greatest full-time employment ever: I look after my two fantastic daughters and I am learning so much from them about them, the world and myself. It’s the hardest job with the longest hours I have ever had, not to mention that it’s not paid very well but the one I have enjoyed more than any of my previous jobs.
Secondly, because I get to do so many exciting things I would not be able to do if I had a full-time job: MOOCs, TESOL Arabia, webinars, online courses (especially the Mentoring EVO), iTDi, etc. OK, admittedly these don’t put food on the table as such, but they are some of the most rewarding professional experiences I have had.
Thirdly, I’ve been able to do some great freelance jobs with Macmillan, Cambridge English Assessment, OUP and Euroexam in Hungary. It’s great to be able to take on projects simply because I’m interested in them, with the extra bonus of being paid, which helps our travel fund nicely. Of course if this is were my main source of earning a living, it could be pretty fairly difficult.
I could probably go on with this list but 300 words into the post I haven’t written a word about Dubai. In my initial post for this series I said I would list 5 things I like and 5 things I am not happy with. So here it goes:
I like it that
1. we can afford to have me stay at home and look after the kids. Many people are forced to work to be able to pay off student loans, mortgages, or simply to make ends meet. Having lived in Hungary I do realise that this is a rare luxury and I am ever so grateful for it.
2. it is much more child-friendly than most of the rest of the world. There are great things you can do and not everything is extortionately expensive.
3. it is multi-cultural. The kaleidoscope of people and languages is truly amazing. It’s an experience that will make the kids tolerant and open. It’s absolutely normal for kids to play with other children of different religions, cultures, skin colours, languages, and customs. I love it when I see how they learn to communicate without any prejudice. Coming from a landlocked, monolingual, quite xenophobic country, this is an experience that makes Sophie and Jasmin better people.
4. it’s a good place to meet very interesting people. Well you can meet interesting people everywhere, of course. However Dubai is a special case in the sense that you have a lot of people with great energies and lot of great ideas lured to come here only to realise that it’s not really what is needed here, so they start doing their own thing to compensate for all they think is missing from their regular employment. Places like the Hub and the Shelter are fantastic places where you can meet people who initiate things like UAELN.
5. we don’t need winter coats. Well, those who lived through the impossibly long, harsh and cold winter this year would know what I mean. Especially when you have to get two children dressed. Yes, the summer is pretty hot but I would still choose air-conditioned heat over -10 in March.
To keep things positive, I decided to give you s ahort list of things I don’t like without dwelling on them too long. So here it goes:
- the censorship of the internet, and the extortionately expensive and poor quality service from telecom companies
- the social injustice and the rampant racism
- the political and the criminal justice system
- the press release regurgitating, manipulative press
- the fact that my carbon footprint is the highest in the world
I can’t say for sure how long the positives will continue to outweigh the negatives, but for the time being at least, I feel as if I am in the right place at the right time, and contributing to the world the best I know how.
Many of us volunteer. This is what happens when there is a thin 10 percent of the profession showing enthusiasm, dedication and motivation to work to become better at what they do. These are the people who tend to spend a large portion of their free time sharing their learning and enthusiasm with those who care, or attempt the heroic task of reaching out to the other 90 percent.
Either way, they end up dedicating time, energy and sometimes even financial resources to working for a professional organisation. Of course, there are amazing individuals among them who sacrifice a lot for their passion. I have been lucky some of them, and it’s the most motivating, inspiring and humbling thing I can imagine.
I think that even they have to learn that their sacrifice and love and passion is best served by sharing it with others and letting others in.
Here are a few of the things I have experienced on joining new groups of volunteers in ELT in the last few years.
1. We have tried this. It didn’t work. Why would we try it again? – A single instance or even a series of instances of something not working does not serve as justification for not trying it again. (Anyone who tried to teach the passive voice to Hungarian learners would know that.) There is a thin line between falling in the same trap over and over again and giving ideas a new lease of life.
2. Being a threat. – No, I’m not. You don’t volunteer for a post to threaten people. You do it because you believe that you have got something to offer that might be useful, interesting or relevant to others. You might suggest improvements or reforms but that’s not because you want to take control, simply because you believe that things can be done better to reach more people, to give them more or better stuff.
3. Oh yes, the tekkie, with his toys and sites. We are not interested. We don’t believe in them. – That’s the wrong attitude again, I’m afraid. Tools, websites, gadgets are there to make interaction, sharing and learning more accessible and fun. It’s not a question of whether you believe in them or not. They are here to stay in one form or another and they manifest exciting new directions our conversation about our profession is taking. Make it your job to learn about them rather them reject them point blank.
4. You’re too young. We know this all so much better. – Ageism is one of the most annoying aspects of these relationships. Age is a state not an achievement. Some of the best things I have ever learnt came from people much younger than me. Embracing, supporting and participating in new things can just bring back the excitement these people have forgotten over the years.
5. That’s too much work. We know. – Well, I know it too. Of course. Anything you want to do well needs time. A lot of time. Just know how much time you have to dedicate but let that not be the limit to what others can do. You volunteer. You are great but you must not look a your volunteering as a sacrifice. The minute it is a sacrifice, it’s lost all its value. If you a looking for pay-off (there is nothing wrong with that), make sure that it’s on par with your “investment” but you can’t use your level of commitment as the gold standard.
6. I’m not needed anymore. – Of course you are. Just because sometimes someone has a different idea, wants to explore different directions, it does not mean that you have been disqualified. It just means that you get to try out something new. Go for it, enjoy it.
What I realised as I was thinking about and writing down this list that these are all emotional reactions, which has lead me to a pretty obvious conclusion: you have to establish a personal emotional relationship with whoever you have to work with.
There are many different ways to do this and it is a much more natural if you can meet the people you work with face to face. It’s a bit more challenging when you are divided by time zones and conflicting routines.
How we deal with other people, our approach to the threat they represent to the “status quo” we have created is determined by our experiences of conflict as a child. It takes a lot of courage and determination to unlearn the less effective ways and learn new ones. Volunteering is a very good platform for this kind of learning because it is not spoilt by hierarchies and financial motives like the big ugly world out there. Volunteering has to be fun. Have a laugh together.Look at family photographs. Spend time getting to know each other before you start working together because it’s the key to learning to respect each other’s differences and not be intimidated by one another. The time you invest into this early stage will pay off. It will release a lot of tensions and time spent negotiating a conflict situation.
I strongly believe that most conflicts (small and large) come from a lack of knowing the other person (country, race, group) and if we spend some time together we will find ways of influencing, learning from and respecting one another.
The one thing the cosy comfort of our PLN does not really prepare us for is this kind of situations, because it usually moves from the personal to the professional.
When you have a task to complete starting off with getting the task done done is the first reaction we have. This can work with small tasks. However, when it’s a professionally challenging and exciting task (like putting together a course or event), you have to make time to understand where the other members of the team are coming from before you can create something truly inspiring that makes all those involved pleased with it.
Rocking the boat is a good thing, tipping it over is not. Learning to deal with these situations is one of the unexpected extra benefits I have gained from volunteering.